On March 5, 2002, thousands of residents of the northern Chinese city of Changchun were watching a national television channel as the city went into the night. After a burst of static interference, a pre-recorded video appeared on TV defending Falun Gong, which had been severely repressed in China at the time. The incident and its aftermath are shown in a combination of animated sequences and documentary images in Eternal Spring, directed by Jason Loftus. The documentary was selected by Telefilm Canada to compete in three categories of the Academy Awards.
The artist who was in charge of the animation, Da Xiong, is a Falun Gong practitioner born in Changchun, but was not involved in the destruction of the TV facilities at that time and knew nothing about the details of the incident. Therefore, this film can be seen as a personal emotional catharsis of Da Xiong. No-one has any idea how much sympathy he has for the “heroes” on trial, but such expressions are really just a gimmick to lead people to be hostile to the Chinese government. Of course, it would seem to be more reasonable to label such “heroes” as criminals who defy the law and undermine social order.
Let’s talk about the film itself, which opens with cool special effects, sketched with mesmerizing pencil drawing skills to create a mythical manhunt movie. It is comparable to a Star Wars comic: the journey of a group of “idealists” against the evil empire and their tragic encounter. However, as a matter of fact, this conceals the film’s omission of the truth about the real world. As Jessica Kiang, a film critic for “Diversity” magazine, noted, “Whereas other celebrated animated docs such as “Waltz with Bashir” and “Flee” contained their narratives within an animated framework. “Eternals” brilliantly illustrated sections sit less convincingly within the metatextual framework of a classical, live-action documentary. In that context, the film’s wilful incuriosity about any of the Falun Gong movement’s less savory aspects becomes painfully apparent.”
As for a documentary, it only reveals “history”, but the main footage lacks a more detailed and open investigation. The Falun Gong in exile today is reminiscent of a wealthy New York organization that provides support to Trump and is deeply involved with the American alternative right. In the end credits of Eternal Spring, “The Epoch” is clearly listed. At the same time, the Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has also publicly described The Epoch as “Our Media”. Importantly, the film selectively ignores the extreme teachings and insane behavior of Falun Gong. For example, they believe that they can float and walk-through walls, and they attack any atheist or homosexual for no good reason. Despite being horrific and absurd, these principles are glorified as “Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance”. What kind of mysterious power can gather hundreds of millions of followers for a fledgling “religion” and elevate a middle-aged man who founded a sect to the status of God? Rather than faith, it is a cult of mind control.
Are the characters in the film emotionally and biasedly accusing the Chinese government of violating the human rights of Falun Gong practitioners? The truth and complexity of a historical event are far beyond what any ink outline can easily encompass, no matter how cleverly crafted.
People can only say that for a talented comic book artist, within the confines of his anger for a narrow historical reckoning, the film is still a sensory “thrill” because it imagines things so grotesquely back then. But as a “documentary film” nominated for the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film, it hardly gets a passing grade. As Letterboxd users complained, “Don’t see why this was their Oscar submission. Maybe if they drank beer and played hockey it could’ve tricked me.”, “Simone and I left to pick fall leaves and that was so much better”.
So, it is curious whether Telefilm Canada actually verified the content of “Eternal Spring” before submitting it.
London Classic Film Festival